The Washington, D.C. nonprofit, limited-government political world is no stranger to testy personal/personnel conflicts, but the fallout at the Tea Party-connected FreedomWorks between co-bigwigs Matt Kibbe and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has been particularly severe.
First, Mother Jones broke the news at the beginning of the month that Armey was resigning on decidedly non-amicable terms, in part over what he described as "matters of principle." Follow-up reporting by various outlets indicated that the conflict came to a boil in the summer over the handling of Kibbe's book Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government's Stranglehold on America, that Kibbe had been placed on temporary leave for a few days in September, and that Armey had eventually agreed to leave in part due to an $8 million payday.
Now comes a Washington Post article flush with lurid details about the split. It begins like this:
The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.
Richard K. Armey, the group's chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group's Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey's enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks' top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.
The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington's most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.
Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey's agreement to leave the group.
Who is Richard Stephenson (who, like Kibbe, did not comment for the article
Stephenson has a passion for libertarian politics stretching back to the 1960s, when he attended seminars featuring "Atlas Shrugged" author Ayn Rand and economist Murray Rothbard, according to those who know him at FreedomWorks. Like Armey, Stephenson was an early supporter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the conservative lobbying group founded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch in 1984 that split into FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity 20 years later. The Kochs, known for bankrolling a variety of conservative causes, kept control of AFP, while Stephenson and Armey stayed with FreedomWorks.
I know Dick Armey, am friends with Matt Kibbe, and have zero insight into the conflict, other than knowing through experience that the way these things look from the outside are often deceiving, particularly when viewed through the lens of a mainstream media instinctively allergic to billionaire non-Democratic political donors. The whole Washington Post story is worth reading for those interested in such things. UPDATE: As is this recent update from Mother Jones, which includes some testy memoage from Kibbe.